The mood in Surfside was somber Wednesday night, shortly after officials broke the news to family members and loved ones that the 14-day rescue mission to find living victims of the Champlain Towers South collapse would transition into a recovery effort, with no expectation of finding survivors.
Rescuers, standing before a mountain of rubble from the controlled demolition of the upright portion of the 12-story building, said prayers as a ceremonial melody played softly behind them.
A few steps away, at the memorial set up to honor the victims of the collapse, Miami-Dade firefighters set up a banner that read “Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Mourns With You.”
In a video posted by Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, the camera panned to show, for the first time, the sheer amount of people involved in the search and rescue effort.
Religious clergy led an assembled group of first responders, politicians and mourners in prayer. The family of Nicole Langesfeld shared embraces with the mayors of Miami-Dade County and Surfside, and with each other. Participants held candles and rosaries as clergy members sang songs and prayed.
Meanwhile, work continued on the rubble, as heavy machinery was audible from across the street. Rescuers will continue searching for victims of the collapse, even though they no longer expect to find survivors.
At the front of the crowd was a group recognizable to those in the community and around the world who watch twice daily for updates: Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, Vice Mayor Tina Paul, Miami-Dade Police Director Alfredo Ramirez, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, Chairman of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners Jose “Pepe” Diaz and Miami-Dade County Fire Chief Alan Cominsky.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, who was thrust in the global spotlight for her role as Miami-Dade’s top administrator, stood in the middle and closed her eyes.
Martin Langesfeld, the brother of Nicole, thanked rescuers and first responders for fighting to find his sister and her husband, Luis Sadovnic.
“I want to truly say thank you,” Langesfeld said. “We didn’t get the outcome we wanted. But we did become a family. I want to say thank you everyone who came together for this.”
At the makeshift memorial on Harding Avenue, dozens gathered in the street to join in prayer in front of a wall adorned with flowers, memorabilia and images of the missing and the dead. Nuns passed out rosaries and attendees repeated prayers for the dead and the missing in English and Spanish.
“What we have behind us is not only rubble, we have brothers and sisters,” said Mother Adela Galindo, of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary. “We didn’t know their faces, we don’t know their names personally but we cry for them and we cry for their families.”
A choked-up Levine Cava spoke through tears at the media briefing a little earlier.
“Our first responders have truly searched that pile every single day since the collapse as if they were searching for their loved ones,” she said.
Burkett said that while “the possibility of someone alive is near zero,” people should continue to pray.
“In the end, God is still in charge,” he said Wednesday. “Today is a heartbreaking day. But I have not lost hope that there could be a miracle.”
With her dog Lilly in tow, Daisy Lazo rode her bicycle to the vigil after work Wednesday night to pray for Dr. Brad Cohen, an orthopedic surgeon who lived at Champlain Towers South and remains unaccounted for following the collapse.
Lazo, who lives in nearby North Beach, said Cohen was the on-call surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital who helped treat her husband after he got into a motorcycle accident in 2013.
When the couple saw Cohen’s face on the news, they wanted to pay their respects. She did not know about the vigil that was planned, but she left the prayer service with a rosary.
“Times like this, you need something to believe in,” she said.